'Dozens' of local homes at riskFirefighters now blame a January house fire on faulty fireplace installation and say similar work around town leaves more homes in danger.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
Firefighters now blame a January house fire on faulty fireplace installation and say similar work around town leaves more homes in danger.
"If we find what we're looking for, I think it's a very big deal," Red Wing fire Marshal Andy Speltz said Tuesday of the fire danger, which he said could affect "dozens" of Red Wing homes.
Speltz was investigating a Jan. 20 house fire on Kosec Drive that began in the walls near the house's fireplace when he realized "something just didn't seem quite right."
Shortly after, fire Capt. Brad Kimball made a surprising discovery: One of the four walls built to contain the fireplace's ashes was constructed of chipwood.
Ash pit enclosures are usually built of concrete or block - not flammable materials - Speltz said.
City Building Inspector Frank Peterson confirmed the faulty installation days later, Speltz said.
Speltz said the wood probably caught fire from a loose ember in the ash and started the blaze. Though the fireplace was installed when the house was built 24 years ago, Speltz said the ash pit's construction made it a fire hazard from Day 1.
Resident Shelly Simanski said he's hoping other Red Wing homeowners can identify the potential hazard before, like him, they are awakened at 12:30 a.m. by smoke detectors.
"It's like a ticking time bomb," said Simanski, who, along with his son, doused the fire with buckets of water until firefighters arrived.
Speltz said residents should evaluate their fireplaces using the following criteria:
-- Is it a wood-burning fireplace, and are you actually using it?
-- Is it constructed with the chimney on the exterior of the house?
-- Does the ash pit below the fireplace have an exterior clean-out door?
He said residents who answered "yes" to those questions should call him. Speltz said Red Wing firefighters will come to suspect residences free of charge and perform a visual inspection to determine if the fireplace system is faulty.
He advised anyone with a suspect fireplace to stop using it immediately.
Speltz said officials know who installed the Simanskis' fireplace, but declined to identify the man, noting that other contractors may have performed similar installations.
Peterson said the Simanskis and others have no legal recourse, since contractor liability expires after 10 years.
Simanski said he's just glad he and his family members were home and could alert firefighters as soon as smoke alarms went off.
The incident made him recall a haunting memory from years ago. He said after the home was built in 1986, a husband and wife came to check out the design of the Simanskis' fireplace. They were about to get the same fireplace installed at their house and wanted to see one up close, Simanski said.
Years later, he learned that the couple's house had burned to the ground.
That, Simanski said, is why he knows his family is fortunate - and why he wants to spread the word.
"I'm just glad that nobody got killed," he said. "I'd hate like heck to have somebody's house burn all the way down."